SANTIAGO – Leaders of the 3,200 striking workers at the Chuquicamata mine called Monday on Chilean state-owned Corporacion del Cobre (Codelco) to show “more flexibility” in negotiating an end to the labor dispute.
“We’re willing to reach an agreement at any time,” one union president, Liliana Ugarte, told Radio Cooperativa, adding that there was only one article on which the two sides had not reached agreement.
Workers at Chuquicamata, one of the largest mines operated by Codelco, went on strike June 14 after the two parties were unable to seal a new collective bargaining agreement.
“The company has closed itself off to dialogue and making a little more progress,” Ugarte said.
On Saturday, workers rejected Codelco’s latest offer by a vote of 1,511 to 1,225.
Codelco offered a benefits package worth 14.1 million pesos (about $20,200) per worker, a 1.2 percent wage increase, better working conditions for new employees and improved severance benefits in a 36-month contract.
Chuquicamata is in the process of being converted from an open pit mine to an underground mine at a cost of about $5.5 billion, making it one of Codelco’s main investment projects.
Codelco is undertaking several infrastructure projects aimed at extending the operating lives of its main mines by about 50 years at a cost of $18 billion.
As part of the overhaul, however, Codelco plans to eliminate the jobs of about 1,500 workers.
Ugarte said the unions were focusing on four points in the negotiations, but the sides were close to an agreement on three of them.
The union leader said that, in fact, two of the points “should not have been in the collective bargaining negotiations because they are part of the (existing) contract.”
The most difficult item in the negotiations “has to do with leveling (the compensation) of new workers, so we can reduce the (pay) gap,” Ugarte said.
Codelco’s new hires “do the same work as the old ones, but they don’t get the same bonuses,” the union leader said.
Ugarte said Codelco was following a government pay policy that does not take into account the fact “that we work in extreme areas, saturated, in very tough conditions.”
Mining areas “have the highest cancer rates, and (incidence) of ortho-muscular diseases, of nervous system diseases. If they have to even things out, let them do it at the top,” the union leader said.
Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica, for his part, said Codelco’s latest proposal “is the highest that the company can make.”
The minister called on union leaders to accept reality and reach a deal.
Although the strike will continue, starting on the fifth day after the vote to reject management’s latest proposal, individual workers can agree to accept the offer and return to the mine.